With 17 Championship appearances this season gone, Rekeem Harper has well and truly completed his ascent into the West Brom first team. He will be hoping to become even more of a regular feature next season.
The 19-year-old midfielder has proved to be a driving presence in midfield when he featured for the Baggies last season. He has displayed notable dribbling skills, making him able to keep hold of the ball in tight situations.
He also has a high pass success rate of 85.4%. This rate is the highest of any player at the club with over 200 minutes of football played. Harper is a promising talent and looks likely to feature even more for West Brom this coming season as they search for a way back into the Premier League.
West Brom mostly lined up in a 4-3-3 during 2018/19, particularly during the second half of the season when Harper featured more. He made his first appearance in November 2018, before really transitioning into the starting line up in January 2019.
Harper was usually positioned on the right-hand side of the midfield three. This is exemplified in his overall heat map for the 2018/19 season below.
We can see Harper spent a little bit more time in the opposition half. With his dribbling ability and the fact that he plays in a team that generally plays on the front foot, this is hardly a surprising revelation.
What we can see, though, is that he does he fair share of covering towards the right-hand side in his own half. This is not only important in helping with build-up, but also in covering his right-sided players. With attacking full backs being such a key part of the modern game, the ability to cover the space they leave behind is an important characteristic for a modern midfielder.
On the Ball
One of Harper’s greatest strengths is his ball retention and physical prowess. Considering only turned 19 in March, this is an especially impressive attribute that he boasts at such a young age.
In the image below, we can see how he has held off a Derby player to get himself out of a tight spot from a throw-in. He has then shown the technical capability to quickly get the ball laid off to a teammate.
Next, we can see how this ability to hold onto the ball can be advantageous in a deeper position. Harper holds off a pressing action from the opposition and is able to avoid losing the ball in a dangerous spot.
Finally, we can see him using his ball retention and dribbling ability to burst into the opposition half. This is a way in which he can really help his side progress up the pitch. He is able to draw in players and beat them, leaving space (highlighted) for him to pick a pass.
From the examples in this section, we can see how Harper has the ability to relieve pressure in situations around the pitch. We can also see how he has the ability to drive forward into the opposition half and progress his team up the pitch. This is his most notable attacking strength.
Off the Ball
In his defensive play, Harper generally shows a strong sense of positional awareness. In this first example, we can see his general positional role in the midfield. He is doing a good job of covering the space behind him. His position helps shift Aston Villa wide, into theoretically less dangerous parts of the pitch.
Next, we can see Harper breaking from the midfield line to press. These two examples show his good decision making in defence. In the initial picture, Harper rightly holds his position as there is no one covering the space behind him. When he does press in the second example, there are teammates there to cover him and less space between him and the opposition player.
These next two pictures, show another major role he has in defence – protecting his full back, usually Mason Holgate. In the first picture below, we can see him performing this role by physically putting himself in between the opposition and Holgate.
This following picture shows him performing a slightly different role in protecting his full back. Holgate has stepped up to press his man, which has left space in behind. Harper has seen to this space by doggedly tracking the run of the opposition player.
Harper demonstrates some excellent displays of positional awareness, arguably ones beyond his years. He is generally aware of the space around him and understands the importance of his role in protecting and covering the full back.
As mentioned before, Harper had an excellent pass success rate last season of 85.4%. While this excellent stat shouldn’t be taken away from, it is a tad misleading.
Harper has a bit of a tendency to take the safe option, rather playing a more risky pass forward to progress his team up the pitch. In the example below, we can see he has several options available of varying difficulty. This includes a teammate who has picked up an intelligent spot in between the lines.
The young midfielder, however, chooses to go backwards instead of taking one of the more offensive passes. The switch to the player on the far flank is a slightly risky option, but the other options highlighted should be very feasible.
To progress, Harper will need to step up in these moments and help move his team up the pitch quicker. He certainly has the technical capability, so it could well be a confidence issue as he tries to establish himself in the side.
The fickle nature of football fans and the media means that one or two awry passes that lead to dangerous situations for the opposition could seriously damage his reputation. In many ways, his caution is somewhat understandable. He will need to be more adventurous as he develops, though.
Rekeem Harper is certainly a very talented young midfielder and has some very strong aspects to his game. These include his dribbling and ball retention, as well as good positional awareness when defending.
He is apt at holding off opposition players and bursting forward to push his team up the pitch. At just 19, he already ticks boxes physically which helps him to operate in this way for the Baggies.
Where he could improve, though, is in his passing. His accuracy is excellent, but this is a stat that has been somewhat boosted by an occasional lack of progressive passing. As we have seen, he sometimes has a tendency to choose an easy option rather playing a slightly more risky forward pass.
If he starts making better and more confident decisions in these situations, it will help him to progress and become an even more dangerous player.
Harper is an exciting prospect and definitely one to keep an eye on over the next few years.
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